Promoting Fair Hiring When Using Background Checks in Government

The passage of the federal Fair Chance Act has reshaped the nature of background checks in government in a few short years. Yet even as policy has changed, public misconceptions remain about government jobs and their background check requirements. These misunderstandings are partly due to the patchwork of similar legislation at the state level—so not every government is as open to hiring those with a criminal record. However, those hiring for government agencies and organizations also have work to do.

Ban the box laws continue to change hiring

Ban the box” laws get their name from the check box on many job applications asking, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” Over time, it has become clear that such questions may create an inherently unbalanced hiring process. Even though it’s potentially discriminatory to refuse to hire anyone with a criminal record, many job-seekers with records assume employers won’t even consider them.

These laws and the federal Fair Chance say employers can’t ask such questions immediately. Most often, a background check won’t happen until you make a conditional offer of employment. The idea is simple: you will know whether a candidate suits the position before seeing conviction history data. Ideally, that should create a more balanced approach to considering the results of a federal government background check.

Why aren’t more candidates applying for government work?

According to the EEOC, only 2% of applicants who went through a government job background check had their applications denied because of their record. That number is despite about 23% of the background checks revealing a criminal history. However, job applications remain slow. The EEOC believes many candidates with records still aren’t applying for such jobs, even with the federal Fair Chance law in effect. The same is likely true in state governments that have banned the box.

Why? The public seems to be largely unaware of these new provisions. Many of those with records still believe their past crimes are a permanent barrier to certain kinds of work—especially with governments. It’s up to those responsible for recruitment in these areas to start turning the tide.

Driving awareness to increase applications

Broadening awareness of these new laws and regulations is key to expanding opportunities. The EEOC also identified that the time it takes to conduct a background check may result in candidates withdrawing their applications. Hiring managers should seek to streamline their approach to vetting while promoting their fair hiring practices.

Including language in job advertisements and listings would be a good first step. Likewise, a promotional campaign explaining Fair Chance laws could educate the public about these overlooked opportunities. Sharing such information at job fairs and other in-person recruiting events is also necessary. 

Equip Yourself With the Right Tools for Screening and Hiring

Ban the box and fair chance laws don’t change the importance of proper vetting. After all, what is a government background check for if not to protect coworkers, the public, and public money? Fair chance laws help guide these considerations but don’t overrule the importance of due diligence. 

When you reach the stage in hiring when you can begin considering a candidate’s background checks for a government position, the right resources for screening still matter. Ensure you have access to these tools and support from a consumer reporting agency that understands your compliance requirements. With the appropriate resources, you can safely hire while giving full and fair consideration to all applicants.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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